A bass ukulele? Now, that’s a bold idea, but not just an idea, though. Bass ukuleles already exist as small solid or hollow body wooden instruments. They resemble guitar ukuleles, but they have four thicker strings to create deeper sounds.
I may have oversimplified the matter, which may be exactly what you need. If you’ve never or seen a bass ukulele before, I don’t blame you. We’re talking of an experimental, tropical instrument not widely present in mainstream music.
However, I don’t want to go on before covering the proper bases. I want you to approach the situation with the right information so you can make an informed decision.
That said, we’ll check a buyer’s advice on bass ukuleles, and then proceed to the top 7 models you can buy right now.
If you’re looking for bass guitars instead, here’re a couple of articles with affordable alternatives:
Bass ukulele buyer’s advice
Building our top 7 best bass ukuleles list required some prior information. We also had to consider e-commerce site reviews, YouTube demos, user reviews, and personal experience.
Afterward, we took into consideration various factors we’re about to disclose. Notably, the construction of the bass ukulele is quite important, as the builds are much more delicate and less mass-produced than solid-body bass guitars.
Bear in mind there’re various brands in the bass ukulele branch, most of which you probably wouldn’t recognize. However, bass ukuleles are fairly new instruments, so there’s not a great difference between brands currently.
Overall, here’re the elements we’re discussing in the buyer’s guide:
- How to play the bass ukulele?
Meanwhile, here’s a demo of a bass ukulele:
Bass ukulele basics
Bass ukuleles typically have a hollow body and a soundhole, just like an acoustic bass. The sound is similar to upright bass, whereas solid-body ukuleles are more akin to gentle bass guitars.
The tunning of these instruments equals the tunning of an electrical bass guitar (E-A-D-G). That means you could transfer your current skills to these instruments. However, there’re other models with a different tuning, which is D-G-B-E or G-C-E-A.
These instruments can use polyurethane or wound strings, although wound strings are not very popular.
Lastly, there’re fretless bass ukulele versions. As all fretless instruments, though, these are not easy to play.
If you want to play a bass ukulele, you probably already play bass, ukulele, or both. Transitioning from one instrument to the other is not that hard.
Who should buy a bass ukulele?
There’re various uses for bass ukuleles. The most popular use, by far, is simple enjoyment. In this segment, there’re plenty of options to fit the budget. Generally, these play well and have nice constructions.
Also, bass ukulele models have similar tones with slight differences.
These instruments are great for people who want to learn how to play the bass ukulele. They ship with beginner-friendly features like fast necks, soft actions, and comfortable designs.
Beginner bass ukuleles have a typical problem, though, which is intonation. No matter which strings you use, these instruments will get out of tune easily. That’s part of the reason why these are not popular items in mainstream music.
Electric bass ukuleles
There’re bass ukuleles with pickups as well. A pickup and a preamp would allow you to play live with these instruments, but then you would need a more professional alternative that can keep up the intonation as you play live.
Another thing you should consider on electric bass ukuleles is the sound shaping options. If you’re concerned about your sound versatility, it might be better to find models with 3-band EQs and such. Also, a built-in tuner would be nice.
If you play bass or ukulele, chances are you’ve heard about these hybrid instruments.
These new models are small enough to fit on your backpack, but still strong enough to be audible -for yourself, at least.
The sound is also surprisingly nice, almost rivaling the surreal sound of electronic drums. They are novelty instruments, though, something alluring for music geeks and collectors.
Now, the original bass ukulele comes from a small company, Road Toad Music company. They produced the first bass ukulele in 2007, the Road Toad Big Bufo Bass. Years later, they introduced the first mass-produced bass ukulele, the Kala-U model.
The Big Mufo remains in the market. However, because it has a great deal of luthier attention, it’s an expensive instrument. The Kala model comes as a collaboration with Kala, a renowned ukulele maker.
Currently, the Kala-U sits at the top of the most popular instruments of its kind. We’ll be covering as part of our reviews with more detail.
Bass ukulele construction
Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the bass’ construction. It determines both its aesthetic appeal as well as its sound. Additionally, it also determines its use, whether professional or enthusiast,
Bear in mind bass ukuleles may produce big sounds, even though they are tiny in size. The bigger models have a 30-32’’ scale length, making them much smaller and lighter than their electric counterparts.
As I mentioned, these instruments may have a hollow body or a solid body. The body type plays a huge role in the sound.
Hollow body models have a sound similar to an upright bass, which means the sound leans towards jazz, swing, blues, country, classical, and similar genres of music.
Solid-body bass guitars sound more like an electric model. I’d say their sound is okay for pop, reggae, and Latin-pop, mostly.
The choice then depends on the type of music you like and you feel like playing. The body type is key to the resulting sound.
Keep in mind most budget solid-body ukuleles may sound and look like bass toys:
- Electric U-bass: it’s a fully electric model with a solid body. You need an amplifier to hear it, but it sounds like an electric bass guitar.
- Acoustic: a hollow or semi-hollow model that creates a sound similar to an upright bass.
- Acoustic-electric: these are the most versatile models as they can sound both unplugged or plugger. They generally pack a piezo-electric pickup.
Solid wood vs. laminated wood
As the general rule of thumb, instruments with solid wood construction on the body are better. They produce warmer, sweeter, and richer tones than models with laminated wood constructions.
When it comes to budget instruments, though, this “fact” is not always true. Sometimes using quality laminated wood is better than using a cheap solid tonewood for the body.
Also, there’re many ukuleles and acoustic guitars with laminated constructions that sound better than their solid-wood counterparts.
So, if you’re looking at the bottom of the barrel, pay no attention to “laminated” or “solid” tags. It only becomes important once you start reaching mid-level price tags, where laminated pieces shouldn’t exist anymore.
Size & tuning
Most bass ukes have the same size as a baritone ukulele, which is the biggest kind of ukulele with a 30’ – 32’’ scale.
There’re smaller models, though, and depending on the size, you’ll get a different tuning:
- Bass ukulele: 30 -32’’ scale / E-A-D-B tuning (standard)
- Sizes anywhere between 20’’ -29’’ scale length have either D-G-B-E or G-C-E-A tuning
I’d advise you to go for a ukulele with the standard tuning so it becomes easier to play.
I also need to mention there’re two variations of the instrument, the second one being the contrabass ukulele.
- Bass ukuleles are smaller, commonly around 30’’. The play on the standard EADG tuning, one octave above the contrabass.
- Contrabass ukuleles are larger, about 32’’ – 34’’- They also play on the same intonation and at the same octave as an electric bass.
Here’s a fun bass ukulele video to keep you interested:
Bass ukes have fat and rubbery strings. They need these thick hardware pieces in order to create deep-end tones on shorter scales.
The strings’ material is typically polyurethane or similar.
That said, the lowest string of a bass uke is also the thickest.
As bass ukes rise in popularity, there comes a wider range of string choices. Naturally, different materials deliver different playability, tension, and tone.
The Kala brand, which currently leads the bass uke race, makes metal round wound strings. These feel softer and resemble traditional bass guitar strings. They are also louder and capable of producing punchy and bright tones.
Experimenting on bass uke strings could be okay. However, bear in mind they are pricier than most strings, as the typical model sells for $25.
As I said before, bass ukuleles don’t stay in tune for long. Moreover, they arrive out of tune right out of the box, and it can be tricky to get the tune right.
This problem is even more apparent with new strings. That’s the main complaint about “U” basses, and it happens because the strings need to stretch quite a lot to create the sound.
See, bass uke strings have an unusual nature. These are flexible, stretchy, and thick. It’s like having a rubber band for strings, and also like having paper clips for tuning pegs.
So, the problem is the constant vibration of the strings. There’re ways to lower the vibration, though, which may ultimately increase tuning stability.
“De Vekey type 2 Ukulele bass side” by Lardyfatboy / CC BY-SA 4.0 Regular ukuleles come in four sizes (soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone). As bass ukuleles don’t have much time in the market, sellers pack them into a single category/size.
How to improve the tuning stability of a bass ukulele
In essence, you may use extra thick strings to decrease vibrations.
Some bass uke strings ship with patented technology that adds density one way or another. That’s where polyurethane strings come into play. That said, they come with a “rubber band” feel.
Moreover, polyurethane strings can stretch for two weeks as you play the bass. Afterward, the bass will have a better intonation.
Here’re the best bass uke strings options:
There’s another option, which is using the newer silver-plated nylon strings with silk core. They feel more similar to bass strings, and suffer less from stretching. However, they are more expensive.
Bass ukuleles commonly use piezo-electric pickup systems, much like acoustic-electric guitars. There’re some models with magnetic pickups with passive or active electronics, which means regular bass pickups.
The pickup choice also comes with the body type, which is why the body type determines the sound:
- Hollow body models use piezo pickups;
- Solid-body models use magnetic pickups
If you’re not choosing a model with pickups, bear in mind these instruments are very quiet. They have minimal sound and volume projection without an amplifier. I mean, the volume is perfectly okay to play alone, but you’ll need an amplifier for everything else.
That’s why I highly recommend using an extra loudspeaker. You would need regular bass amplifiers for the job.
Whatever you’re planning to do, be sure you have realistic expectations of the instrument. Even if you don’t have the amp, the bass ukulele is fun for home practice, or even playing with one person in a quiet environment.
Playing on a larger group or at any venue needs some extra power. Also, hollow-body bass ukes sound a bit louder than solid-body alternatives as they have a soundhole.
Bass pickups are either P-pickups (split-coil), J-pickups (single-coil), or humbuckers (like on the photo above).
The majority of bass ukuleles have frets, but there’re some fretless models as well.
A fretless board, albeit complex to play, brings two benefits:
- As bass ukuleles have a notoriously bad intonation, fretless boards allow you to play higher up the fret while staying in tune;
- As polyurethane strings stretch unpredictably, fretless boards compensate for flat tuning.
Needless to say, if you haven’t played with a fretless instrument before, don’t start with a bass uke!
How to play a bass ukulele?
Bass ukuleles feel more like a bass than a ukulele. With the same tuning, similarly thick strings, and similar functions as a bass, bass players could transition to the instrument with practice.
After a while, these smaller instruments will feel natural and fun. With their shorter scale, low tension, and unique strings, playing will feel different but ultimately easier.
That said, the fatness of the strings will feel weird at first, and it will take some time to master them. Additionally, the large diameter of the strings feels “floppy” compared to electric guitars and bass guitars. As a result, strings can feel foreign at first, as bass players expect more resistance from them.
For that reason, you’d need to play bass ukuleles a bit differently. Proper playing relies on plucking the strings closer to the bridge while resting your thumb on the upper body. Otherwise, if you play near the neck joint, you’ll likely get fret buzz and slapping sounds.
Also, as the strings are grippy and loose, they can slide under your fingers as you pluck them. That’s why you need to improve the technique of your strumming hand and avoid touching the other strings with your thumb.
Naturally, the best way to play bass ukuleles is with your fingers. A pick just doesn’t connect very well with “rubbery” strings.
After you get the technique right, you can play this ukulele type instrument just like you would play your bass guitar. Your middle and index finger pluck the basslines, whereas your other hand moves smoothly between the root and the scale notes.
Top 7 best bass ukuleles reviews
We’ve reached the meat of the article, so it’s time to find the best bass ukuleles you can buy right now.
We’re choosing models with electronics as well fully-acoustic alternatives. We’re also going for both hollow and solid-body options as we don’t know which one you prefer.
Likewise, there’re models for enthusiasts, as well as options for those of you who want to take the instrument more seriously.
Best entry-level: Hadean acoustic-electric U-Bass
Hadean is a company that makes quality instruments at competitive prices, and their Hadean U-bass is a great example.
It has a solid walnut body featuring an extreme quality. Then, under the soundhole, it has a pickup system plus a preamp that delivers volume, bass, treble, and mid controls.
The system generates warm sounds. Moreover, thanks to the walnut material, this model has a distinct sound signature that’s richer and more harmonic than your typical U-bass. I’d go ahead and describe the sound as “interesting,” as if it were part of a spy movie OST.
The bass itself looks very attractive and features an eye-catching grain finish. There’s also a black & white binding finish decorating the soundhole.
Elsewhere, there’s a rosewood neck with a standard truss rod and common inlays. Still, the neck feels sturdy, substantial, and fast. Moreover, because of the truss rod, you can adjust the action of the strings to make them feel less “rubbery.”
I have to note the instrument has a 30’’ scale length plus 16 frets.
The hardware is quite above average as well. It has a rosewood bridge with four individual saddles, plus die-cast tuners. Overall, you get extra options to modify the feeling of the neck, therefore the instrument has features a beginner wouldn’t enjoy.
Lastly, the unplugged sound has a sharp and toppy sound, which is very nice. The volume is okay and with a fair projection, even surprising. Plugged-in, though, the fun increases with the presence of an EQ section to shape the sound.
Overall, the Hadean U-bass is a super-cheap instrument with a surprising amount of features. It’s a great tool to practice and play around with.
Best budget: Kala Wanderer U-Bass
The Wanderer U-Bass by Kala is the most popular U-bass there is, and it’s also one of the most affordable.
It has a laminated mahogany body with minimal cosmetic features, which is why it keeps the prices down. An all-laminated body doesn’t offer a warm sound, so you might want to check other solid-wood options for a richer sound.
However, the laminated body saves you a lot of money, which might be great if you’re just looking for an instrument to have fun with.
Other features include plastic saddle and nut, rather than synthetic material or bone. That’s another area where Kala was able to save some bucks.
The tuners are also generic, which, again, don’t help the tuning intonation. Notably, though, the Kala Wanderer includes the strings we recommended, which are the Aquila Thundergut.
Then, it has a simple UK-500B pickup system. It’s nothing to write home about, but it does allow you to plug the amp and play around with your friends. Also, the preamp section includes presence, bass, and volume sliders.
Lastly, the Wanderer U sells with a soft gig bag that makes the package more valuable.
Overall, if you’re looking for the best hobby-level U bass, this is it.
About the Kala U-Bass
The Kala U-bass was the first mass-produced U-bass in the market. Kala targets the average consumer with their U-bass series.
The model copies the classic baritone ukulele body, and it has the same tuning as a bass guitar. With a short 20.7’’ scale plus its fat rubbery strings, these hollow-body instruments sound mellow and deep, just like an upright bass
Kala’s U-Bass series has grown a lot since it premiered in 2008. It’s the mainstream success that showed the rest of the brands how to build and sell a ukulele bass.
Best mid-level: Kala Journeyman U-Bass
The Journeyman is a popular and reputed U-bass. Part of the reason for its success is its spot-on intonation, as its construction quality alone makes up for the main drawback of these instruments.
This model is a great option for live gigging, on-the-go practice, and even recording. It has a top-tier U-Bass tone and has little to envy from pricier models.
Moreover, its design is welcoming for both beginners and experienced players.
For construction, it features solid mahogany of the body with a semi-hollow construction. There’re two f-shaped holes on the sides to create extra acoustics, but bear in mind you should play this instrument with an amp as it doesn’t have enough projection.
Then, it has a Venetian cutaway on the 14th fret, granting you full access to the 16 frets of the instrument.
The instrument has a mahogany neck plus a rosewood fretboard. It’s on the smaller side, with a 20’’ scale-length, but it does feature the standard E-A-D-B tuning.
Now, the sound comes from a UK-500B piezo pickup beneath the body, but you may play live via a PA system as well. The preamp also delivers a 3-band EQ (mid, treble, and bass) to further your versatility.
Lastly, this model has heavier gauge strings, which decreases the overall flimsy feeling of ukulele bass strings.
I have to add the Journeyman typically sells with a bundle. The bundle above includes a bag, a tuner, and a cloth.
Best premium: Kala EBY Stripped Ebony
The Kala EBY-FLT is a fretless acoustic-electric model. It’s been around since 2008, but the complexity of playing a fretless instrument doesn’t make it very popular.
Either way, it’s a premium instrument, an item professionals would love. Simply put, it’s the best-built quality and sound Kala has to offer, which is saying a lot.
The hollow model has a solid mahogany body with mahogany on the back and sides. That grants a deep resonance at the bottom end of the frequency. It also has an ebony arched top, which adds an extra edge to the treble. That’s a perfect mix.
There’s a white decoration around the soundhole, and it’s pretty attractive if you ask me.
Elsewhere, the neck has mahogany tonewoods and a walnut fretboard with inlay dots. As for size, it has a 21’’ scale inch with 16 frets.
Rounding up the construction comes a walnut bridge with four individual saddles, top-tier die-cast tuners, and custom Kala inlays.
As for electronics, it has a pickup at the top edge of the body, which is an unusual position. It’s a Shadow U-Bass NFG pickup system, which brings an active EQ section plus a built-in tuner.
Also, the sound is really good. We’re talking about a unique fretless sound that oozes quality and balance.
For such a small body, it’s quite a powerful instrument at the bottom end. At the same time, the sound comes out balanced across the frequency range.
Lastly, the tuning stability is very good. It’s not perfect, as it struggles with the same kind of problems as the rest of the instruments of its kind. But the tuners can do their job decently and hold their ground on a live presentation.
Top value: Luna Bari U-Bass
The mid-priced Luna Bari-U bass is perhaps the best model of the branch.
Its amazing quality starts with the building materials. It features solid mahogany on the body with spruce at the top, and then a mahogany neck plus a walnut fretboard. These are all premium tonewoods with the benefit of improving the sound over time and creating a generally richer, harmonious tone.
Also, the construction makes the Luna U-bass super light and comfortable. It also has a baritone ukulele scale length, which is 20’’ and 126 frets.
Moving on, we find a U-bass with a deep tone, clear mids, and beautiful highs. It also brings a preamp with volume, bass, and treble controls for extra versatility.
Overall, it features quality built, a decent sound, and an affordable price. It might not sound as good as a Kala-U model, but it can last longer and retain the tuning better. For that reason, I named it the top-value U-bass you can buy right now.
Best sounding: Oscar Schmidt Comfort Series U-Bass
The Comfort Series bass uke is reputed for its acoustic manufacturing, which follows a very high standard. Bear in mind the Oscar Schmidt brand is about making expert offset instruments, such as resonators, hollow guitars, mandolins, and similar.
The Comfort Series model ships with a mahogany top, back, and sides plus a rosewood fret and mahogany neck. The neck has a beginner-friendly profile, which makes it easy to play for beginners and pros alike.
Its name, “Comfort,” comes from a proprietary design feature on the body that allows you to better rest your forearm as you play. Moreover, it packs a cutaway on the lower bout for extra access to the higher frets. In particular, there’s a rosewood binding on the armrest and the cutaway, plus a satin finish all over the instrument.
The integrated electronics come in the form of the OUB200 pickup system, a great performance circuitry. This system delivers a built-in tuner plus volume, bass, and treble sliders. As a result, this U-bass sounds much like an upright bass. It’s deep, smooth, and jazzy.
Then, the bass has a rosewood bridge with four rosewood saddles for string adjustments. At the other end, four die-cast tuners can do the job decently.
I’d say the sound is extraordinary. It’s very loud without any amplifier, with a smooth and yet powerful bottom end. The sound quality only improves with an amplifier. Also, the preamp section grants you the freedom to create a better tone, a tone that’s always resonant and clear.
The overall sensation of the instrument is elegance. It looks and sounds like fine wine. I’d say the Comfort Series U-bass is the best sounding instrument of its kind.
Best solid-body: Mini4 Mahalo U-Bass
Noone takes solid-body / electric bass ukuleles seriously. Intonation problems, “noddle” strings and overall awkward sizes don’t make them exactly popular.
Still, we’re reviewing the best solid body U-bass as some people might find it appealing. We then have the Mahalo model, a Canadian instrument with a swamp ash body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard.
The bass comes with a custom magnetic pickup that’s hidden beneath the body, covering all of the strings. The pickup comes with bass, treble, and volume controls.
Its sound is impressive. It sounds deep, mellow, and smooth at the same time, as if the sound could slide out of the bass.
With a short 16.25’’ scale, 24 frets, and super lightweight construction, it might be a good alternative to practice on the go.
Bonus – Best entry-level ukulele: Kala KA-SSLNG
If you’re further interested in the ukulele world, let me also recommend the best first-timer instrument of its kind you could buy.
Here’s the cheapest ukulele you can trust. It packs laminated Solid Spruce Top on the body plus mahogany on the sides and back. Whereas the built is inexpensive, it’s still reliable.
The SSLNG Soprano bass offers a long neck, which is a unique approach to the instrument. The elongated neck resembles concert-style guitar ukuleles, and it delivers extra frets for musicians looking for more range.
The body also packs black binding plus black & white puffing on the edges of the body. Overall, the gloss finish looks gorgeous and delivers an instrument that, albeit feels cheap, is free of frills and sharp edges.
The hardware is okay, all things considered. It has die-cast sealed tuning pegs plus Aquila synthetic gut strings. Similarly, it has synthetic bone nut and saddle by Graph Tech, which is an amazing addition for the price point.
Lastly, we’re looking at a hollow-body acoustic ukulele. It’s also a beginner model with low action strings, a fast neck, and overall easy playability.
Wrapping it Up
I hope you can now approach the situation with the information you need. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.
For all else, remember, the choice is up to you. What’s your budget, and what do you like